A square dance party night is called a lot of things. A “square dance one-nighter party.” A “square dance fun night.” A “barn dance.” A “western party.” When I was a new caller, a “one night stand.” At the end of the day, they all mean the same thing. As a square dance caller for hire, these gigs are pretty much all the same type of thing and should be approached with the same attitude, and that is for the hired caller to provide a great time to everyone who walks in the door.
The success of the party night starts as soon as you are called upon to entertain for that special group that is interested in having such a party. Good advice for any square dance caller (both traditional and modern style) approached to do a square dance party is to be certain that you and the event organizer have a clear agreement of what you are hired to do. Do not assume anything. Ask a lot of questions concerning the event and make sure that you both have a good understanding in detail about what it is you will do at the party:
- Where is the party to be?
- What time will the event start?
- How many people will be present?
- Will there be any breaks?
- Will there be any drinking of alcohol at the party?
- What will the average age of everyone present be?
- Is this a special event – birthday or other engagement?
- Will the party be inside or outside?
- What types of music will you expect – modern – traditional square dance – mix of all styles?
- Is the group expecting a demonstration or will they participate, or both?
- Will there be any other entertainment?
- Is the building or venue suitable for good sound?
- Is the area within comfortable sizeable and safe for dancing?
- Is there electrical power available?
- How long will the event last?
- What is expected of me?
Once you have a clear understanding of what the event is, ask more specific questions to avoid problems about setting up for the party:
- Is the electrical power supply easily accessible?
- Will you have a table available for me to use?
- Ask for specific directions to avoid confusion.
- Is there a stage to perform on?
Once you have an understanding of what will be required and what the event organizer expects, you can quote a fair price for calling at the party. Then follow this list of things to cement the agreement and prepare yourself for the event:
- Ensure that the organizer has your contact information.
- Confirm the meeting time for setting up and a contact for that
- Make sure that you have the organizer’s phone number and at least one back up contact
- Be prepared to send a contract to the organizer if they do not send you one in a timely manner
- Sign and date the contract and send back a copy to the hiring party
- Prepare for the event using information discussed and all of this should be briefly described in the contract
- You must plan a program for the dance fulfilling the agreed to terms
Related: Square Dance Contracts Information
Build your program and music for the evening by keeping in mind the time frame allowed, time of year (particularly if outdoors), type of event (family event such as a barbeque or a corporate work party) and age of the participants. Your program must be fitting for your group in style of dance – modern versus traditional or combined – in choreography and you must also bring an abundance of great musical selections so that you can offer sonic versatility in really appealing and great music they can relate to.
Choose the square dance calls you want to teach and outline your program. You can always change things around and modify your program if you need to. Think about teaching simply and keeping things fun.
Not having a program in place is not a good idea at all. The other thing is you will need to be highly entertaining and charismatic. Have some fun ideas that will liven up the crowd.
Consider all possibilities of programming such as having a line dance somewhere in the program. This will allow everyone to get up and dance, even if they do not have a partner. A square dance mixer is a great way to promote intermingling and fun. Most people have not tried this kind of dancing, so it is a novel way to break the ice socially.
Another great idea is to have all the dancers make the “big circle” in introducing some of the very basic calls to a large group at the beginning of the night. This always is the best way to get everyone learning and moving quickly and the engagement is quite energetic for everyone dancing. Later on you can break everyone off into squares and work on teaching the basics of dancing in an actual square of eight people.
All of these square dance party programming ideas are very different from normal dance programming for Mainstream club level callers. Spend some time with it. You will need to do this to make it pay off.
Related: Preparing For a Square Dance
Square Dance Equipment Check
Have all of your equipment ready to go well in advance. Speakers. Stands. Laptop. All necessary cables and extra power cords. Be ready for any possible problems with equipment, or if you are outside, be prepared for weather changes. In Colorado, the weather can change quite quickly from mild and sunshiny to windy, cold and inclement within a few minutes. Doing parties requires being prepared for weather changes. A backup laptop and amplifier is always an added insurance policy for equipment failure or any sort of computer malfunction.
It is a good idea to bring some choreography that you can refer to if you need to. Stored on the laptop is great, but you should have a hard copy of any choreography you have targeted for use for the night. I personally like recipe cards or a binder notebook with call sequences or a reminder list to prompt you to remember key things you want to teach and perhaps the precise order to do so.
Bring along your contract in case there is a misunderstanding about the terms you had agreed upon. And some business cards just in case someone asks you about calling for their group. All of these items need to be ready and organized and ready to go before you leave for the party.
Make sure that everyone has a lot of fun and they enjoy the dancing. After all, this is the very reason you were hired for the event. Keep in mind that teaching and calling classes is very different from a square dance party. Everyone in attendance is there to have fun, you were not hired to teach them condensed dance lessons or intentionally recruit anyone for square dancing. You can be one of the best callers out there, but if the crowd does not have a lot of fun and you do not connect with everyone there, you have failed miserably. The organizer will not be happy. And you will have not fulfilled your contract agreement and most likely will only be returning as the ice cream server.
For more inspiration on calling an outstanding and entertaining dance check out this article:
Feel free to call me if you have a square dance caller in training question!
Have a successful and fun gig!
Mission Statement: The purpose of this post is to create a greater visibility of the square dance activity for future dance population growth on a national and local level. The coaching information provided here serves as a source for square dance caller education, training, and perspectives on dance. Future articles will be developed to improve the programs of square dancing and how those learning to square dance call can help contribute to the preservation of both modern western square dancing and traditional square dancing and to aid in the growth of the square dance activity.